What does the “body” of a wine mean?

When describing a wine, you’ve probably heard the tasting term “body”. The body of a wine is referring to the wine’s texture, weight, density a wine has on the palate. Essentially, the way the wine feels in your mouth.

 

What are the different body types of wine?

Wine is categorized into three wine body types:

Light Bodied
Medium Bodied
Full or Heavy Bodied

 

How can you tell which “body” a wine has?

Think of the difference between skim milk, whole milk and cream. These are all variations of milk, but they have a different weight in your mouth. Skim milk is light, whereas whole milk is medium and cream is quite heavy. This is the same thing with wine.

 

What makes a wine full-bodied vs light-bodied?

Full-bodied wines have a rich, complex flavour that tends to coat and linger in the mouth. Whereas light-bodied wines provide a more watery flavour. Medium-bodied wines fall somewhere in between. You can also get an idea of a wine’s body by its colour. Deep coloured wines tend to be heavy or fuller, while lighter-toned wines tend to be lighter.

A general rule of thumb to determine a wine’s body is the wine’s alcohol content. Typically, the higher the alcohol percentage, the fuller the wine’s body is. Wines with alcohol levels above 13.5% are typically considered full-bodied.

 

What factors play a role in whether a wine is full-bodied or light-bodied?

What determines the body type of wine?

Many factors play into a wine’s body type. Such as extract, glycerol, alcohol, acid and grape variety. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these factors affects the wine:

 

The alcohol content is a key determining factor

Alcohol is one of the key factors in determining a wine’s body. Why? Alcohol contributes to the viscosity of a wine. The more alcohol in the wine, the heavier the mouthfeel – thus, the fuller the wine’s body.

 

Extract such as sugars, acids and glycerol affect the wine body

Extract also contributes to a wine’s body. This includes all non-volatile solids in a wine. Like the sugars, acids, glycerol and phenolics (i.e. tannins).

Why? Typically, red wines are heavier in body than white wines. However, there are full-bodied whites and light-bodied reds. If a wine is fermented or oaked, it adds weight and body to the wine. Thick-skinned varieties, like Syrah, usually contain more extract than thin-skinned varieties, like Gamay.

When it comes to white wines, various winemaking methods, like leaving the wine on its dead yeast cells (a.k.a lees) after fermentation or bâtonnage (stirring of the lees) also adds weight and body to a wine.

 

Grape Variety affects whether a wine is full or light

Grape Variety also plays a part in a wine’s body. Different grape varieties produce wines that are fuller or lighter-bodied than others. Why? There are certain grape varieties, like Grenache, that have a higher sugar content when ripe – and remember, sugar content plays a role in the body of a wine.

However, some grapes produce wines that are generally fuller bodied, like Chardonnays. However, not all Chardonnays are full-bodied. Chardonnay wines, in general, are considered more full-bodied than Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling wines. However, not all Chardonnay wines are full-bodied.

 

Climate plays a role in determining the fullness or lightness of a wine

A grape’s body is influenced by the climate in which they are grown. For example, Chardonnays grown in a cool climate, produce light and crisp wines like Chablis. Whereas a barrel-fermented, oaked Chardonnay grown in warm, sunny California would be heavier. Regardless of grape variety, grapes grown in warmer regions are riper and contain more sugar, thus higher alcohol levels which is the primary determinant of a wine’s body.